Yesterday morning, February 5, 2022, the Brooklyn Queens Diocese laid to rest one of its finest priests, Monsignor Larry Hinch.
I heard about his passing on Friday and decided to drive to Queens for his funeral mass.
Father Hinch was one of three priests to found the Brooklyn Cursillo and Christian Awakening retreats. Along with Father Jim Tugwood, Father Doug Brown, and Professor Michael Brown of St. John’s University, they restructured the Spanish language Cursillo for adult men and adult women and make changes where they saw fit. They also created versions of it that were for high school boys, high school girls, and co-ed for college students. Bishop Mugavero helped to underwrite the costs, and a permanent retreat center was opened on Humboldt Street in Greenpoint. Thousands of high school and college students made the retreats, and area Catholic high schools strongly supported it by sending students. It is a retreat that is transformational in the lives of many people. Thousands of Christians around the NYC Metro area will point to their Cursillo or Christian Awakening as initiating or renewing their faith journey, as much of an experience in Christ as it is a little course (the literal translation of Cursillo).
Monsignor Hinch was a deeply spiritual and loving man, and devoted Catholic. After St. Paul’s Center, he was also assigned to Holy Child Jesus parish in Richmond Hill among several stops in his priesthood, where his funeral mass was celebrated. Monsignor Tom Caserta, also a former Cursillo priest, and one of the most highly regarded priests in the diocese (as well as faculty member of St. John’s University and Immaculate Conception Seminary), preached the homily. If you’ve never heard Father Tom speak, I’d advise it. He is a powerful speaker, and amazing person, and a brilliant guy. The main celebrant was Bishop Bob Brennan, also a St. John’s alum. One of the other celebrants (there were more than 20) was Monsignor Bob Romano, who is the NYPD chaplain. Monsignor Romano also has his roots in the C.A. and Cursillo programs, and although lesser known than Father Michael Judge, was present at 9-11 and every other tragedy involving NYPD officers (there are far too many of those). I cannot think of a finer person to bring comfort to the aggrieved family of NYPD officers than Father Romano. He was recently a concelebrant at the televised NYPD Detective Rivera funeral.
About ten years ago, Larry Hinch and George Cowan did a two night retreat which I attended in my home parish at the time, Our Lady of the Snows in Queens. They spoke about painful life events they had to endure, which tested their own faith. George spoke of a post surgery stint in a rehab, and his interactions with a seriously ill young boy he befriended. Larry spoke about being called to provide solace to family friends of a girl he had baptized many years prior, who died in an Arizona smoke lodge tragedy. To remember the specifics ten years later is a testimony to how powerful their examples were. I spoke to Monsignor Hinch afterwards. I told him that the late Father Jim Tugwood was a close friend of mine. He immediately responded, “Jim Tugwood! What a wonderful priest!” They had remained lifelong friends who he had last seen just weeks before Jim passed away tragically. I then remarked to him, “You know, Monsignor, you did some really great work while at St. Paul’s Center.” Before I could continue, he sharply rebuked me. “No!!!” he said emphatically, “God did all the work.”
As the mass ended, the casket carrying Monsignor Hinch was brought to the back of the church for a final blessing. As it ended, the church broke out into an affectionate and thankful long and loud applause
I had a good friend who I met at St. Paul’s Center, the late team member John Quigley, who would refer to such priests as “The real stuff,.” men who lived with extraordinary faith well and shared the Gospels in word and deed.
Father Romano said wistfully to me outside the church, “The old guard from St. Paul’s is all gone now.” Certainly, there is the next generation: Holcomb, Caserta, Romano, Musumeci and a few others, whose Cursillo experience helped form the core of their priestly vocation and who are approaching retirement themselves. But mostly and gratefully we remain, beneficiaries of their wisdom, patience, counsel and encouragement to live a DeColores life in God’s friendship.
R.I.P., Larry. I can imagine God’s first words upon meeting you were, “This is my son Lawrence, of whom I am well pleased.”